Permaculture: More or less productive than industrial agriculture?

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Agricultural productivity can be measured in three ways.
1. Productivity per worker: productivity per unit of work has made modern agriculture hyper-competitive to the point of becoming almost unbeatable. A Western peasant on his tractor, plowing alone his field of several tens of hectares, is dozens of times more productive than a peasant of the “South”, even when one integrates the costs of mechanization, inputs and phytosanitary products. This productivity boosted by subsidies and very low transport costs. In Western countries, the cost of transport is estimated to be about 1% of the selling price of agricultural products. This allows countries with industrial agriculture to flood markets around the world, making the drama of the peasants of the “Third World” African countries, India, Brazil…
2. Productivity per unit area: This is where small farms can be the best. By crossing all their influences and strengths: permaculture, ancestral know-how, better follow-up of cultures, precision seeders… These small farms are able to get a better yield per square metre, with good profitability although employing more manpower.
3. Productivity per calorie invested: At this level, we can give to modern agriculture, the palm of the worst yield: it spends ten to twelve calories energy to produce a calorie food. This is not the case for agroecology or permaculture.
Despite its weakness in two units of measure in three, industrial agriculture remains competitive for 2 reasons. We live in a world where labor is very expensive and the price of oil is very low. But this world of cheap oil will not be our children’s. The land becomes scarcer, they lose their fertility. At the same time the price of the barrel is increasing steadily and oil reserves are depleted. Not to mention the pollution of the soil, atmospheric and the shrinking of resources.
The report by Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, of March 2012, shows that the agroecology would enable the production of whole regions to be doubled in ten years, while reducing rural poverty and Bringing solutions to climate change.

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